little girl reading in large chairQ:
We recently bought eReaders for our sons, ages 5 and 7. I am wondering if we should treat the time they spend reading on these devices the same as the time they spend reading library books or books from their own bookshelf? Also, I know that generally the concern around screen time is with attention issues, but are there any adverse consequences for vision associated with reading an eReader as opposed to a printed book?
~eCurious from Grand Isle, VT

A: Dear eCurious, 

As far as learning is concerned, reading is reading. Whether those words are on a
page made from wood pulp or whether they are electronically generated and
appear on a screen, the process of decoding words into ideas, narratives, and
images is the same.

One of the great things that eReaders can do that paper books cannot is provide
supporting materials that are best presented as images or sounds. For example,
a description of a scientific experiment can be illustrated by a video of the
scientific process in action or the description of an extinct bird species can
be amplified by a recording of its song.

On the other hand, one of the benefits of reading (that cannot be duplicated watching
TV or movies) is that the reader can imagine places, people, and situations in
ways that are individual and unique. To ensure that your children explore and
enjoy that experience, balance texts (particularly non-fiction) that contain
lots of links with text-only fiction and poetry, whether on a printed book or
eReader. You will be encouraging your children to use their own imagination as
well as their desire to research what they are reading more deeply.

there is no evidence that eReaders can have irreversible effects on your
children’s vision, many people experience more eyestrain after reading a lighted
screen than they do reading a printed page. And while some eReaders have backlit
screens which project light much like a computer or TV screen, others use
e-paper screens which reflect light and, like paper and ink, can be easier on
the eyes. Make sure to do your homework and have your children try out eReader
options to choose the right device for your child. And remember that while
lighted screens can cause temporary eyestrain, the same can be said for reading
a printed book in dim lighting, or for long periods of time. Choose the medium
that best fits your child in terms of comfort and convenience, and be sure to
let them know that they should take breaks from reading if their eyes begin to
bother them.

Enjoy your media and use them

The Mediatrician®


2 Responses to “Do eReaders harm children’s eyes?”

  1. Helena

    Dr. Rich,
    Learning, when it comes to reading, is more than the decoding process. It must, I believe, include the development of a life-long love of reading. There are reasons to believe that ereaders are inferior or detrimental in achieving this goal (if it is a goal). Books on ereaders or tablets are much inferior to picture book reading in print, the experience of the art work is much diminished. Parents prefer print and that matters a lot in how much or how often children will be read to. I think there is a big difference between cuddling up with picture book or cuddling up with an ereader or tablet. Also, recent surveys show a negative association between reading and ebooks. Please see the recent National Literacy Trust survey and Nielsen Book survey. And more and more ebooks are getting read on tablets so then you have the enormous problem of distraction away from a book to all the video, games, socializing, etc. available.
    Please, when it comes to reading, let’s be very thoughtful, careful and sensitive to what is involved in “reading”. Surely we don’t want to talk about it merely as a decoding process if we want to promote literacy.
    Thank you!

  2. Busymom4

    We prefer paper books, just for the overall full experience of feeling the pages, hearing the pages turn, smelling the paper, and the sense of actually seeing your results by completing a book. The overall sensory satisfaction is so much greater with a paper book! An e-reader almost encourages distractions due to the nature of the device. Our family will stick to paper, we get enough screen use throughout the day!


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